How to Make Attendee Wellness a Priority at Your Event

Event managers, take note: Attendees prioritize their wellness more than ever, and they don’t want to sacrifice their diet, fitness, or lifestyle standards in order to attend an event.

The financial implications are huge – the market value for health and wellness products in the U.S. is expected to reach 179 billion dollars by 2020. Effective event management is about giving your attendees the best experience possible. This is about more than simply riding a trend – it’s about caring for attendees.

How we’re seeing a health and wellness focus in events

In the past, it’s been hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle while attending an event: Wake up early, scarf a breakfast of sugary pastries, sit in windowless session rooms all day, eat a heavy dinner, go to an after-hours networking event, then go to bed too late to get enough sleep. Attendees might feel like they were herded around all day, with no time to rest their brains, refuel properly, or release excess energy.

Those days are gone. Event management trends have shifted toward a focus on wellness, especially physical wellness, and attendees expect to be able to maintain their healthy routines even while traveling. Hydration stations, where guests can refill their reusable water bottles, are now the norm. Menus are increasingly expected to accommodate vegetarian, gluten-free, and sugar-free diets. But this trend toward physical wellness is rapidly accelerating, and the event management industry is shifting in response.

Depending on the size of event, the industry and content focus, and budgetary concerns, there are a range of ways to implement wellness initiatives. Some events, such as Microsoft Inspire + Microsoft Ready, have wellness opportunities (PDF link) including suggested morning running routes and daytime walking paths between venues that avoid smoking areas. Others, like SXSW’s new Wellness Expo, add wellness-specific programming, stages with guided workouts, and demos from vendors in the health industry. There are a variety of rentable items that can support wellness at any event.

Venues are also getting behind the health and wellness trend, with The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas pioneering the charge. The Venetian’s wellness initiative includes a 134,000-square-foot onsite fitness facility and spa, hotel rooms designed to be quieter for better sleep quality, and hotel bathroom products that are free of parabens, gluten, silicone, and dyes. The Venetian’s Honest Food program offers catering for events with vegetarian and vegan options, a focus on locally sourced foods, and non-alcoholic drink choices during after-hours events, among other flexible menus.

Event checklist ideas to adapt to the wellness trend

Offer options for physical activity.

Some events already offer fitness classes like yoga and tai chi during session breaks. Others include standing desks, more comfortable seating such as sofas, and ergonomic workstations in community areas so attendees can take a break from the standard chairs they’ve been sitting in all day. Event management professionals could also consider creating partnerships with nearby gyms, health spas, and other fitness-based businesses, or distribute a resource for attendees with information on how to plan a quick workout before or after their daily sessions. If the event is during the daylight hours and in a temperate climate, encourage guests to walk between venues and bask in the sunshine instead of waiting in line for a shuttle.

Adjust the event schedule.

Events with sunrise-to-sunset sessions consisting primarily of screen time are not ideal for physical wellness. Attendees want opportunities to move around between sessions, to go outside for some fresh air when possible, and for the event schedule to accommodate their sleep schedules. Consider restricting the event’s hours so morning sessions don’t start too early and after-hours events don’t run too late – many attendees try to squeeze in some work while they’re at the event, which means they may be sacrificing sleep. Add plenty of breaks during the day so guests don’t feel rushed, and try to provide sessions that reduce screen time (fireside chat-style sessions are an emerging trend that eschew the screen and traditional presentations in favor of authentic, face-to-face conversations). We know flexible agendas are difficult to balance with the need to pack in content-dense sessions, but increases in attendee satisfaction should make the sacrifice worthwhile.

Tailor the food and beverage menu.

Catering choices affect every guest attending the event. Be sure to select a venue that allows flexibility in choosing the menu. Find ways to provide plant-based options, which are especially important if your event is heavily attended by younger generations or guests from cultures where vegetarianism is more common. Many caterers can locally source food when possible, as well as allow for dietary restrictions such as gluten-free, common allergens, dairy-free, no sugar added, etc. And, of course, plan meals with health and nutrition in mind, which means providing slow-digesting whole grains and filling proteins in addition to (or in lieu of) the ever-present donuts and carb-heavy box lunches.

Event attendees want to feel cared for, and that means offering smarter meal choices, encouraging physical activity, and allowing them to maintain their own schedule and healthy habits. It’s time for event management to prioritize wellness as much as event attendees do. Many of these measures won’t add any additional cost to the event budget but could greatly improve the guest experience and show your attendees that you value their health.

Opus Agency’s How to Harness Cultural Trends for More Successful Event Management whitepaper (PDF link) on identifies three major cultural trends that are changing the event industry, and event designers should plan accordingly.

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